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Passing torches: Kyrie Irving calls Caris LeVert to offer encouragement

New Orleans Pelicans v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Kyrie Irving, like Kevin Durant, was not part of the Brooklyn travel party. The number of players, coaches and staff couldn’t exceed 35 and carrying an inactive player into the “bubble” meant there’d be one fewer rehab staffer or assistant coach.

But, as Caris LeVert told media on the team’s Zoom call Saturday, he’s still watching and offering encouragement.

“I talked to Ky [on Friday] morning, talked about the games and playoffs coming up and giving me encouragement,’’ LeVert said. “He’s watching all the games. He’s been in this position before, fighting for something.’’

Irving of course went to the NBA Finals three times, with one ring back in 2016. Jacque Vaughn said he appreciated the personal touch.

“It’s huge Caris got a call from Ky — that’s a great thing this isn’t an individual sport,’’ Vaughn said. “Just because we don’t have the group with us, doesn’t mean they can’t be part of it. Caris appreciated that.’’

In an interview last week, Sean Marks said that Irving’s rehab — interrupted by the pandemic shortly after his surgery — is continuing.

Irving of course raised the possibility of a players boycott of the “bubble” back in June during the height of protests of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, reportedly suggesting that players attention could be better dedicated to social justice initiatives.

One thing everyone agrees on now is the Nets will go only as far as Caris LeVert takes them. He averaged 25.0 points, 6.7 assists and 5.0 rebounds as the leader of an unselfish team, the starting point guard at the end of the seeding games. Also, he was named to the All-Bubble second team, one of only three players averaging at least 25.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists since the NBA restart.

“A great compliment to what Caris was and is able to do with our team,” said Vaughn. “His ability to step up and meet the challenge and respond. We’re all human and want confirmation, and so it’s great for him to get confirmation from the people who are watching it and watching him perform.”

“It’s an honor to be included in that, especially with some of the guys who are listed,” said LeVert. “All those guys are great players in their respective right. So, it was cool to definitely get some recognition, but as a team, we’re definitely looking forward to the playoffs right now. That’s where our focus is.”

Garrett Temple said he too has been pushing his younger teammate.

“I’ve even encouraged him to speak even more and he’s done a great job of taking over the team, whether it be calling plays, talking about bringing us together in the huddle, to encourage guys,’’ Temple said.

Expect to see the Raptor key their defense to LeVert, with a questionable perimeter “D”, particularly in the corners, expect to see even more 3-pointers than normal from Brooklyn’s offense.

Meanwhile, as Marc Berman wrote, the Raptors don’t seem to that concerned about the Nets ... at least their coach anyway. Indeed, the Nets are 10-point underdogs in Game 1 Monday.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse spent 13 minutes speaking to the media Saturday via Zoom. He wasn’t asked about the Nets nor did Nurse bring up the name of their first-round opponent...

Nurse, a Coach of the Year candidate, said he’s looking at “a long, long process” like last season.

“It’s a long journey that’s just getting started,’’ Nurse said.

Berman notes that Fred VanVleet did talk about the Nets tough road to the playoffs.

“They’ve been though quite a bit,’’ VanVleet told reporters. “It’s not like we’re going in disrespecting or overlooking them.”